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‘I Thought I Wasn’t Done Yet’: Mascoma Gives Ball to Lawrence

  • Football coach Les Lawrence speaks to his Lebanon team during practice in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2000. (Valley News - Amy Thompson)

    Football coach Les Lawrence speaks to his Lebanon team during practice in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2000. (Valley News - Amy Thompson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Football coach Les Lawrence leads his Lebanon squad during a practice in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2000. (Valley News - Amy Thompson)

    Football coach Les Lawrence leads his Lebanon squad during a practice in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2000. (Valley News - Amy Thompson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover football coach Les Lawrence in an undated photograph. (Valley News photograph)

    Hanover football coach Les Lawrence in an undated photograph. (Valley News photograph) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Football coach Les Lawrence speaks to his Lebanon team during practice in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2000. (Valley News - Amy Thompson)
  • Football coach Les Lawrence leads his Lebanon squad during a practice in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 17, 2000. (Valley News - Amy Thompson)
  • Hanover football coach Les Lawrence in an undated photograph. (Valley News photograph)

West Canaan — As enjoyable as it may have been, watching high school football from above the sidelines wasn’t what Les Lawrence wanted. He needed to be on the sidelines.

And, once more, he is. A football coaching veteran of more than three decades, Lawrence officially took over as Mascoma High’s new gridiron boss when he was approved by the Mascoma School Board late Tuesday night.

Lawrence spent Wednesday meeting with his prospective players, parents and boosters of a program that grew considerably under predecessor Ray Kershaw. In a phone interview on Wednesday night, Lawrence admitted he has a lot of learning to do about the Royals, but has no doubt he’s back where he wants to be.

“It’s not any one thing; I guess I can’t put my finger on one thing,” Lawrence said. “It’s an exciting opportunity. (The program) is just being taken over by the school as a school sport in terms of funding. … The booster group is very active down there; the community is very active. That makes it what sounds like a fun place to coach.

“It might be as simple as when you’ve coached football, it never really gets out of your blood. I thought I wasn’t done yet. It might be as simple as that.”

A longtime teacher at Lebanon High School, Lawrence’s football experience stretches back to the 1980s and the days of the long-defunct Connecticut Valley League. Hanover, Lebanon and Stevens have all called him head coach; he also assisted UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons twice, when Lyons held the same position at Dartmouth — Lawrence worked with the Big Green freshmen — and most recently at Kimball Union Academy up until the Meriden prep school shut down the program in 2011.

“I thought Les was a good teacher,” Lyons said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “He did a good job with the players in terms of the way he coached them. … He was demanding, but at the same time he got the kids to play hard. He did a good job.”

Lawrence, 58, spent the past couple of autumns doing color commentary on local radio broadcasts of Lebanon High football. When he learned of the Mascoma vacancy — and was approached by someone with an interest in the program about applying, he said — Lawrence decided to give it a look.

“I called (Mascoma athletic director) John Kelly; I knew him and asked him what was going on, what it’s all about,” Lawrence said. “I agreed to go and chat with the (search) committee and did an interview. I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to have the position to be there, but John called four or five days later and said they did.

“Football is a time-consuming thing, not just an in-season deal. There’s a lot more with that. It impacts a lot of people. When I got the green light on the home front, I knew I wanted to do it again.”

Kelly said it was important Mascoma find someone who is both a teacher and a coach. Lawrence teaches health and outdoors experiences classes at Lebanon and is also the Raiders’ longtime Nordic skiing coach.

“We’re constantly looking to find educators as well as teachers in the building,” Kelly said. “We can’t do that with Les, but we have taken a substantial step forward in having someone interacting with the kids who’s not strictly from a football perspective but one as an educator. That’s a big plus to the program.”

Lawrence has been involved in various levels of football coaching since becoming Hanover High’s varsity coach in 1982. He spent seven seasons with the Marauders, going 29-34 and twice challenging for the title in the CVL, a 10-team conglomeration of Upper Valley schools built out of the shortages and price spikes in gasoline from the 1970s. His final team, in 1988, finished second in the league and closed its year with a 13-7 defeat of Lebanon that was the Marauders’ first over their archrivals since 1982.

Lawrence also spent four years (1992-95) at Stevens, going 10-23, along with a seven-year run at Lebanon (1996-2002), producing a 21-42 record.

Mascoma enters its seventh varsity season in August on a upswing, just what Kershaw had in mind when he signed on with the program in 2010.

Seeking to establish a foundation, Kershaw pushed the Royals through a pair of losing seasons before blossoming with a run to the NHIAA Division VI championship game in 2012. Mascoma remained in contention for the playoffs until the final week of last season as well. Kershaw recorded a 16-21 mark in four years, including a 13-6 record over the final two.

Lawrence said he’s likely to retain the same run-heavy double wing offense that Kershaw employed to considerable success. Lawrence’s defenses focus on presenting multiple looks and controlling gap play.

“It’s going to be a learning process for myself and the kids as they get to know me,” said Lawrence, who met with some prospective future Royals on Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll be doing some of the same systems and things. There are always differences, and I try not to make any comparisons from one group to the next.

“I told them, ‘This is the cleanest slate you’ll have because I don’t know you yet. I don’t have any preconceived ideas because I just don’t know you. I want you to go and show what you know.’ ”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.